The neighbors refer to it as "a fortress" that would position their lovely homes on the backside of what looks like "a Wal-Mart or a prison wall." In other words, they aren't exactly welcoming the proposed expansion of Manitou Springs' Cliff House hotel with open arms.
And they aren't the only ones.
Aside from the angry neighbors, the Cliff House has also tangoed with a concerned Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) and the still-undecided city planning commission and City Council. Hurdles upon hurdles.
Sure, this isn't the first time residents have defiantly declared "not in my backyard!" But what is interesting about this uproar is the nature of the project. The Cliff House, after all, is no Wal-Mart. It's not a strip club, a nudie video store or a power plant.
Actually, the Cliff House is a AAA Four Diamond Award hotel. A popular spot for weddings. A historic landmark. And, as far as hotels go, the pride of Manitou Springs.
The Cliff House has been eyeing expansion for more than two years. General manager Paul York explains that the current hotel just doesn't have what it takes to attract business travelers or family travelers. Not enough meeting rooms. No pool. On average, he says, occupancy tops out at about 60 percent, and the hotel has made a profit for only two of the past nine years.
For the hotel, he says, the expansion is do-or-die. The current owner, 1859 Historic Hotels Ltd., a subsidiary of Gal-Tex Hotel Corp., purchased the hotel from James Morley in 2006 with plans to expand.
"If we're not able to expand, I suspect that the owners of the Cliff House will have to reevaluate their purchase," York says, adding there's no guarantee it would stay open.
The expansion would be huge. The nearby historic Wheeler House would be restored and turned into several large meeting rooms. Other structures, built in the 1940s and '50s, would be demolished. The Wheeler House would have a new tower on one side, resembling (but taller than) a tower that the building once had. A large canopy would serve as a carport. And that's just for starters.
There would be a pool inside a glass atrium, and an "addition" that would dwarf the old Wheeler House's 3,375 square feet.
According to most recent plans, the hotel would rise 50 feet above Grand Avenue, at least 15 feet taller (or more, depending on interpretation) at its highest point than zoning currently allows. In all, the expansion, called Cliff House West, will add 79 rooms to the existing hotel's 55, plus extras including a 4,600-square-foot grand ballroom. The new buildings would add 110,500 square feet in all.
There's no way the expansion will fit HPC guidelines, given its size and design features, though the project has been altered several times to bring it closer to compliance. That means the city would have to make exceptions to approve the project, over objections of neighbors who say it would block their view and ruin a neighborhood.
If approved, York says the project could be finished a year after groundbreaking, likely costing $15 to $20 million. And while many oppose the plan, York thinks some might be persuaded by a huge tax boost for the city, and more visitors in a town that depends on tourism.
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